Microsoft spin-off ZenZui has developed a graphical browsing user interface (UI) for mobile phones. The UI maps the nine number keys on a phone to navigational bookmarks.
In the UI, each number key maps to a tile which acts as a bookmark for particular content. Tiles can provide easy navigation to regularly visited sites, such as an Amazon.com shopping page, a local movie theater, Nike.com, or a site for a particular TV show. Users navigate by zooming in through the number keys, or a touch screen on compatible handsets.
The company and technology offer a number of options for marketers, from branded tiles to simple ad placements.
"What the research showed when we did product work was that people are very good at remembering special layouts, but not as good at remembering text or bookmarks," said Eric Hertz, CEO at ZenZui.
Users of the graphical system can map anywhere from nine to 16 tiles, though ZenZui expects to be able to expand the number to 36. Each number key will have four possible bookmarks assigned.
The plan is to offer the browser through carriers, but also off deck for users to download and create tiles independently. ZenZui will push content to the tiles in a manner similar to RSS. "That's music to the ears certainly to the user and music to the ears of the carriers," said Hertz. "It minimizes bandwidth requirements, data is sent during off-peak times."
Management of the tiles will be handled by users on the phone, or on the Web. "Each user will be able to manage and display new tiles on the computer," said John SanGiovanni, co-founder and VP of products and services at ZenZui. "The next time [the user] looks at the phone, they will be there."
ZenZui also has a viral component. Each tile has a feedback channel and a send-to-a friend function. Both functions potentially offer data to marketers and content owners. "We can report to marketers which are the most viral tiles and which are the stickiest," said SanGiovanni.
The UI offers an opportunity to marketers who want to create branded tiles, or advertise on content tiles. Advertisers can see ways they can do more with those tiles through brand extensions and transactions, said Hertz. For pure advertising, each tile has a space for a banner ad. Content owners not wanting to run advertising can opt to lend the space to a particular charity.
The concept began in Microsoft's research department and was then diverted to Microsoft Ventures Group, an investment arm which typically spins out companies which don't fit with Microsoft's core businesses.
ZenZui plans to enter an alpha trial period with around 100 users. It then plans to hold a beta trial with 1,000 or more users by e-mail invite, similar to the beginning of Gmail. General availability is expected in the fourth quarter.
The name ZenZui is derived from "GUI," the acronym for graphical user interface, (define) with a "Z" for "zoom" tacked on to signify the unique browsing method.
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